DSC_1126We recently went for a quick noodle soup lunch into the Asian Market Eating experience at Tuk-Cho, Ealing Broadway. We’ve been next door at the Thai Canteen before and weren’t impressed there (on account of bland food), so all advance credit to Tuk-Cho.

Oh dear. We shouldn’t have. We’d been a lot better off making our own.

The place was mostly empty when we arrived in the early lunch time hours, and filling to about 50% capacity during our stay. When we came, serving staff was already at 150% capacity though. Noodle soup bars and Asian market eating tends to be fast and furious (just try out wagamama if you don’t know what I mean). At Tuk-Cho, they took their time to take our orders and then again to deliver our meals. The single waitress (later joint by a colleague) was just not on top of things, there’s no two ways about it. Experienced waiting staff can easily handle the number of guests they had at the time, but at Tuk-Cho, they didn’t feel like rushing. A slow approach to fast food, fair enough.

When choosing from the menu, we liked the fact that Tuk-Cho tries to cover the whole of South-east Asia: a Malaysian Laksa, a Vietnamese Pho, a Thai Tim Yam Kung, a Cambodian K’tiao. Nice, we thought, and ordered one Laksa, one K’tiao. Both arrived after quite some waiting and were lame in terms of heat, and flavourless in terms of general aroma. A lame and bland Laksa, really? How hard can it be? Same goes to the K’tiao, which I will admit is a little harder to get right. I don’t think this one was even close. None of it was bad, but it was a far cry from being good enough – certainly not for a premium price of £8.40 (K’tiao) and £9.90 (Laksa), service not included.

These places come and these places go. We’ll be back when the name on the front changes again.

I made a Cambodian noodle soup myself just a few nights ago, as I begun getting worried that I might have leaned out of the window a little too far but – No, I shouldn’t have worried. All is well, and my mouth sung of flavours for a long time after the last drop was spooned out of my bowl. Not at Tuk-Cho though.


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One of the Finest Parts

DSC_0239OK, it’s been a while since the last post. We’ve been to the Lake District National Park, mostly around the Northern and Western Lakes, Carlisle and a visit to the coast in Maryport, but based in a cottage just west of Keswick. We’ve been back for a few days already, so now it is time to declare the blog dead or commence posting. With the good wife taking loads of lovely pictures, the decision is easy:

Take a look at the selected 33 images right here, or enjoy all 259 in the ‘all’ subsection. I assure you that every single one is worth taking a look.

To the surprise of everyone, we enjoyed the most glorious weather: sunshine, blue skies, and summery temperatures throughout. However, the nicest surprise is always made to first-time visitors. To my parents, who accompanied us on this trip, Cumbria presented itself in its best mix of gentle lakes, meadows, and rough mountains and valleys.

So many people focus on the Mediterranean for holidays that many simply have no idea what Britain has to offer. Maybe not the reliable temperatures of the Greek islands, the deep blue skies of the Algarve, the food of France or Spain or the exotics of Morocco. However, the  British countryside has a lot of gorgeous areas to offer, and the Lake District is undoubtedly among the finest parts.


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Quicksilver Trails

Californian-PoppiesA new day, a new California State Park: This time, the Almaden Quicksilver County Park. Owing to sore thighs from the previous day of kayaking, I chose a small round trip of approximately 6km, but it had all I could ask for, and more:

First, the approach: drive south through San Jose on Almaden Expressway, then turn off into Almaden Road, following signs to New Almaden. It’s Silicon Valley at first with 4 lanes each direction, then a small town, and all of the sudden it’s rural California. Just like so. It’s astounding.

At the Hacienda Entrance, I found ample and free car parking space, a couple of shaded benches, and the usual information board with maps and warnings of poison oak, mountain lions and bobcats. My 6km hike through the park took me through the most beautiful landscape, and across the occasional reminder of the mining past: the area used to be one of the richest quicksilver mines of the world, owing to the high concentration of mercury in the bright red local cinnabar. Until the 1920s, this mercury was mostly used to extract gold from ore, and enabled the Californian gold rush.

The trail also featured some of the steepest inclines I have ever walked; in comparison, the way out of the Poverty Flats in the Henry Coe State Park is almost a walk in the park. Thankfully, those in the Almaden Quicksilver Park were pretty short, as I begun to feel my sore thighs at that point.

I was glad that I chose this short loop, but was even happier that I did get out there in the first place. I didn’t see any landbound animals, but birds of prey, and flowers everywhere. The bright orange Californian Poppy and some tall yellow flowers similar to Rapeseed brightened my hike and my day.

On my way out, I stopped at the Quicksilver Mining Museum, where a friendly and most enthusiastic park ranger talked me through the collection and answered most of my question. Free of charge, friendly, with a smile and an if there is anything else… Wonderful. US park rangers are always super.

The only question the ranger left unanswered was about the etymology of the word quicksilver itself. I find the similarity with the German Quecksilber startling, and wondered if quicksilver is an anglicised version of the German word. One Internet source claims the roots go back much further, reporting a common root in the Middle English quyksilver, from Old English cwicseolfor.


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A Clever Bird

DSCF3606I went kayaking on the Elkhorn Slough at Moss Landing, just a little north of Monterey, on the weekend. $30 for an all-day boat rental, inclusive of wetsuit, windbreaker and life jacket at Monterey Kayaks; you really can’t ask for a better deal.

The inlet was heaving with seals, otters, sea lions, and their pups, and the whole thing was good fun and superb value for money in spite of a strong tide pushing in, and a strong breeze freshening up during the cause of the day. This makes the first part of the journey really easy, but it turned out to be a good workout coming back. A good thing that I followed the advise of the rental guys and didn’t take too far up on the inlet.

Amidst the sea mammals, the inlet if crowded with birds. Geese, ducks, pelicans, herons, all kinds of water birds, and of course seagulls. In the end, I found myself watching a seagull more than anything, because the bird had discovered a clever hunting strategy:

I sat adrift and enjoyed my sandwich, watching a mother otter and her pup diving for mussels, and suspiciously eyeing the seagull from the corner of my eye. As it turned out, this particular seagull had no interest in my delicious sandwich. Instead, the bird was watching the otters just like I did, but with different intentions.

I don’t think the young otter got any mussels, but back on the surface, the mother opens up some and shares her catch – it’s the cutest thing to watch.

Enter the seagull.

She hassles the otters until they give up and dive away, while dropping their catch. The seagull dives, and enjoys a nutritious shellfish meal.

Clever, ey?

You want to hate the bird, because the bird is nasty and the otters are cute, but I couldn’t help admiring the strategy.


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Raw Beauty

DSC_0766-2We enjoyed a rather cold and strenuous bicycle ride in the Peak District this past weekend. We took 5 hours to complete the 40km loop around Hathersage, which included steep ascends and descents, climbing 1000m in altitude, cycling over muddy fields and grassy descents, and just about everything we had anticipated – plus some!

In the end, once our ears were defrosted and the Grand National was run, we all enjoyed a hot shower, drink and food in the evening, and shared a proud sense of accomplishment.

The main feature which makes the Peak District so attractive, along with many other parts of rural Britain, is the fact that there is very little forest which would otherwise hide the rough landscape, or prevent it from becoming such a rugged thing. Most of it is bare of trees, or at least not featuring dense and large forested areas. The pretty hills are covered with grass and shrubs (and sheep) instead, exposing the rocky and rough-edged mountains.

I was reminded on the suggestion that all of Britain was once covered in forests. Is this true, and who brought it down? The Romans? The Wild Things? Robin Hood or Henry VIII?

A quick Internet search reveals that, indeed, the whole of Britain once was covered with forests which grew after the last ice age, and being gradually but efficiently diminished by the vast demand for fuel, building material and timber for many other applications by the Romans.

So, now we know one more thing the Romans did for us: chopped down all the trees.

Not sure if I should be angry or grateful for it.


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Sleeping Beauty

DSC_0713Happy Easter, everyone. Our wishes arrive late because we took a couple of days off to relax in the Norfolk Broads for canoeing, cycling, walking and chilling out over a good meal.

While the weather wasn’t as good as we had hoped, it certainly was much better than we feared, and we could enjoy all these activities while mostly staying dry, and with only moderate frost bite on fingers, cheeks and toes.

I have always liked the Broads. It’s just so nice to have water everywhere, and given that the area is predominately flat (or flat-ish, as any cyclist will quickly discover), any view is also full of sky, blue if you’re lucky, or leaden otherwise. It’s quite a sight.

Not so much of a sight is the local gastronomy though. I guess we just didn’t discover the highlights, but since we were staying right in the middle of one of the touristic hot-spots, Wroxham, I think the state of the local gastronomy draws a clear picture: several Fish & Chip shops, and a very large McDonald’s. A decent Thai restaurant and an equally decent Indian curry house. Some more take-away places, and two hotel pubs offering Sunday Carvery all day, every day, and two other restaurants. All are either take-away places, or restaurant with varying degrees of aspiration but a delivery that might please an early 1970s customer in terms of menu, attitude, decor – everything except the prices, which were definitely up-to-date.

You’d want to shake the Norfolk tourism officials and entrepreneurs awake, really hard. It’s such a waste!

Here’s one of England’s prime tourist locations, well within the London catchment area for short and long stays. It has everything you’d want: the rural setting, the coast, the relatively stable weather of England’s south-east, water, wildlife, nature, even a bit of culture and history here and there.

You’d want to shake the Norfolk sleepy heads awake and tell them to take advantage of their surroundings, offering waterside cafes and restaurants, and to go after those sitting in their self-catering cottages with local farmers’ markets, artisan produce, a local fish monger and a butcher selling local rare breed pork and beef. A local micro brewery doesn’t seem a far-fetched idea (here’s at least one), and a posh river-side high tea wouldn’t go amiss either.

But no. It’s Tesco (or Roys, who seems to own Norfolk), it’s McDonalds, its Fish and Chip take-away shops. It’s frustrating.


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Saigon, Saigon

DSC_0940I promised a friend and member of the Sunday Night Curry Club to tell about our trying out of Saigon, Saigon, a Vietnamese Restaurant in Hammersmith’s King Street, so here goes:

We loved it.

We arrived at 7pm on a Saturday evening to a pre-booked table for four, and it quickly turned out that pre-booking seems essential: the place was packed, and the downside was that we had a slot from 7 to 9pm.

Staff was friendly and efficient though, and overall noise levels were pleasantly low, inspite of the many diners in the room.

For starters, we enjoyed fresh salad rolls with sliced shrimp & pork in soft rice paper, char-grilled quails marinated with honey, minced garlic & five spices and a sliced beef steak salad (medium-rare) with mixed herbs in fresh lime juice. All three dishes were so nice that none of us could pick a favourite.

For the mains, we had stir-fried spicy beef with morning glory, stir-fried chicken in a fruity tamarind sauce, shredded pork with lemon grass and black mushrooms, served in a clay pot, and seafood “on fire,” all accompanied by fried rice, sparkling water and a Sauvignon Blanc.

Maybe one of quieter nights will allow for more time. While we didn’t feel rushed through the meal and our 2 hour slot, in the end we were declined a coffee and asked to vacate the table for the 9pm batch. I think this is just acceptable given the overall quality to price ratio; they’d probably have to raise prices across a magical threshold in order to run the place at a single seating per table. Maybe 2 1/2 hour slots would be clever compromise move though.

The food was great. Prices are very reasonable for the area; we paid approximately £30 per person, which included a bottle of wine shared between four. The only downside is the two hour table slot business.  We’ll be back for sure, but maybe not on a Saturday night.


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Stepping Off Terra Firma

whirlpool (in the riover Rhine, not the Thames) How many times did we walk by the river, enjoying the water and the nature, while staying on dry land? I know. Many, many, many times. It’s simply astonishing.

Prompted by Alice Roberts‘ TV programme on Wild Swimming, we have finally made it off good old terra firma this past weekend. Together with good friends, we set out to the river just upstream of Tilehurst (west of Reading), where we hired two 16′ canoes and paddled in peace for the day.

Oh, and yes, we did take a dip, and it was beautiful. The water was much nicer than expected, and not half as cold as feared. We had armed ourselves with short wetsuits for some extra warmth, which we were grateful for, and enjoyed a lovely little swim. Sadly no photographic evidence, ‘coz we all were in the water. You’ll have to take my word for it.

You haven’t seen or read the last of this yet.
Wild Waters of Britain, here we come!


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Jubilee Greenway

Thames Barrier, in front of the O2 dome and Canary Wharf Ah, the Jubilee Greenway cycle loop: http://www.bikely.com/maps/bike-path/429490.

We took the train to London’s Waterloo and started by crossing Westminster Bridge, then via the Palace, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens to Paddington and Little Venice. Lunch on the canal in Maida Vale. Onwards through Regent’s Park to Camden Town, The Angel in Islington, Victoria Park in Hackney, then to the Olympic site. Crossed the river vie Woolwich Ferry, then back along the river to Greenwich, Tower Bridge, Southwark, and back into London.

We had just missed our train, with the next one almost an hour away, so we pushed on, across Waterloo Bridge, through Covent Garden, down Shaftesbury into Piccadilly, through Hyde Park and into Paddington, where trains run every few minutes.

55km (Waterloo to Waterloo), and a very nice trip on a very gorgeous day. Too bad so many people were about, in spite of the World Cup match England : Germany. The tour is more like a steeplechase in large parts, dodging pedestrians and other cyclists, and having to slow down to walking pace or even less.

It’s not perfect for cycling, but it got us all the way into the East, even beyond the Thames Barrier, with sights on many famous and infamous London highlights. Very good!

(Photos are being uploaded as we speak: http://gallery.gauweiler.net/cities/London/Jubilee%20Greenway/)

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The Cycling Revolution

Animation courtesy of http://picasion.com/ Did you know London is on the brink of a cycling revolution?

I didn’t, but according to Transport for London, it’s imminent: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/cycling/15459.aspx. I had heard about the cycle hire scheme (see here for details), and can only hope it doesn’t fall victim to vandals. Too bad the cycling superhighways are up to five years away from completion. We should have introduced those a very long time ago.


(Today’s image should have been a little video. It shows an animation on a big display that we saw somewhere – was it the Canary Wharf Shopping Centre? We took four different pictures, and http://picasion.com/ turned it back into an animation for us.)

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852 days... One of my favourite past times on a Sunday afternoon here in London is city drifting. We’d drive somewhere, more or less anywhere within the city, then walk without destination until the rain starts or the legs hurt.

This past Sunday, we took the train to Paddington, then walked up Edgware  Road to elegant Maida Vale, then along Regent’s Canal through the Zoo and into Camden Lock and the markets, where life is as abundant and as colourful as life can be. Browsing the markets, a drink somewhere, then onwards to Tottenham Court Road, from where the Central Line brought us back home.

A lovely afternoon city walk at any time of the year, but preferably on a Sunday, so that traffic is reduced and Camden Lock Market is open and busy.

Here are some pictures from this past weekend.


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